János Betlen: In the West, the image of Hungary is disproportionately negative 

According to János Betlen, who gave an interview to the portal MediaPiac, the left-wing Western press paints an unreasonably gloomy picture of Hungary and elites today are an increasingly destabilizing force.  

In an interview with MediaPiac, a media personality who had previously hosted a number of television programs called it ridiculous that Western European newspapers paint the current Hungarian government as fascism. According to János Betlen, the former editor-in-chief of Magyar Televízió, liberal elites in America are trying to make role models out of minorities thought of as strange by the majority of society; this, together with several other extreme phenomena, could destabilize the political situation. 

Instead of television, you now deal with the written press, serving as editor for Metazin and BudaPost. The latter has been reflecting on the news in Hungarian public life in English and German for 10 years now. Why do you consider it important to inform foreigners about Hungarian affairs? 

I have found that a disproportionately negative image of Hungary has developed in Western Europe, so we try to give our readers, just visiting our site or interested in Hungary, a correct picture of a topic each day by publishing brief reviews of controversial press opinions. 

In connection with the current debates between Brussels and the Hungarian government, does the Western press paint a gloomy picture of Hungarian conditions? 

This was already going on much earlier, in 2011, although it has been strengthening since the middle of the decade. It is not uncommon for foreigners to read in the newspapers available to them that there is fascism here, or at least a dictatorship. For most of my life, I lived in a dictatorship, a soft one — although it wasn’t so soft. Then there was no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of association. 

Can the balliberal press be held responsible for the development of this image of Hungary? 

The world of media has completely changed in recent decades, and the same is true of the previously prestigious television channels and newspapers. For example, take CNN in the 1970s (when, of course, cable TV didn’t even exist yet); federal media oversight would have revoked its license had it been edited as it is today. Of course, the same can be said for right-wing Fox News. 

This trend is indeed striking; it is enough to think back on the eve of the US presidential election when a CNN analyst was struggling to hold back tears on live TV when incumbent Donald Trump was performing better than his Democratic opponent. What could be the cause of phenomena like this?

They have simply forgotten the basics of the profession, they do not even seek correct information. 

This is not the fault of individual journalists: Today, the divisions in society run so deep, especially in America, that they would lose more viewers with balanced information than they could gain, as the political strata expect the media to confirm their own opinions, and non-political people are increasingly watching such programs.

Is this the phenomenon of so-called opinion bubbles?

Today, politically engaged people see their political affiliation as part of their identity, and they see opposing opinions as a form of aggression against their innermost personal selves. Moreover, the elite today requires a population to have elements of identity that the masses of ordinary Americans cannot understand, let alone accept. This is destabilizing society.

What do you mean by that?

A society can be stable if it accepts its elite as legitimate. In America, of course, only a few have become billionaires, but there was a belief that everyone could make their fortunes. They don’t really believe this anymore. The elites are now trying to legitimize their own situation with very different things: ideologies. However, they are deeply dividing society, and the more people question the legitimacy of this layer, the more unstable the political situation becomes.

The full article in Hungarian is available here

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